Why did Eliezer put his hand under Abraham’s thigh?

Author: BibleAsk Team

Eliezer’s Vow

“So Abraham said to the oldest servant of his house (Eliezer), who ruled over all that he had, “Please, put your hand under my thigh, and I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell” (Genesis 24:2,3).

Eliezer was the most faithful servant of Abraham’s house. He had been chosen a half century ago as Abraham’s prospective heir (Genesis 15:2). Now Abraham asked Eliezer to carry a very serious mission, that is to find a bride for Isaac. The death of Sarah had possibly led to take a hurried action to arrange for the marriage.

Although Abraham was to live another 35 years after this incident (Genesis 25:7, 20), he seems to have felt feeble at this time (verse 1). So, he authorized his servant, Eliezer to select a wife for Issac, who was already 40 years of age. The power given to Eliezer to choose a wife showed the submissiveness of Isaac.

In ancient times, as in the Orient today, parents selected marriage partners and made wedding arrangements for their children. This in no way meant that the desires of the young people themselves were ignored (Genesis 24: 58, 67). The long delay in arranging for Isaac’s marriage was probably due to Abraham’s wish to not take a Canaanite wife for him, and to the fact that heretofore he had not found it convenient to arrange for one from Haran (verses 3–6).

The Canaanites were famous for their immorality and idolatry. They were to be judged by God for their wickedness and their corruption.  So, Abraham wanted to maintain the purity of his descendants. His own story with Hagar, and the stories of Lot and Ishmael, had shown him the negative effects of uniting with the pagans. In addition, the Lord had already banned intermarriage with the Canaanites, a prohibition later given in Mosaic Law (Exodus 34:16).

Moses instructed, “and when the Lord your God delivers them over to you, you shall conquer them and utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them nor show mercy to them. Nor shall you make marriages with them. You shall not give your daughter to their son, nor take their daughter for your son” (Deuteronomy 7:2,3).

“Put Your Hand Under My Thigh”

To place the hand under the thigh was an ancient custom that was carried out with a solemn oath. This practice was also mentioned again in Genesis 47:29. In these two places, it is talking about a promise to act faithfully after the death of the one to whom the promise was made, that is, to continue to keep the promise with the deceased’s children. In this case, the death of Abraham was not to release Eleazar, his servant, from this oath.

Bible commentators have different explanations about this ancient custom. As the source of posterity (Genesis 35:11; 46:26; Exodus 1:5), the word “thigh” or “loins” has been understood as referring to Abraham’s offspring, specifically to Messiah, the promised Seed. In this story, it was necessary that Abraham’s offspring marry with godly individuals as it is from their seed and future descendants that Christ, the Messiah, would arrive. Other interpretations have offered the explanation that the thigh is symbolic of authority, and the putting of the hand under it, is seen as an oath of loyalty to a higher individual in status.

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In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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